There are a Lot of Diseases of Eye
What is amblyopia?
Amblyopia is poor vision in an eye that did not develop normal sight during early childhood. It is sometimes called "lazy eye."
When one eye develops good vision while the other does not, the eye with poorer vision is called amblyopic. Usually, only one eye is affected by amblyopia, but it is possible for both eyes to be "lazy."
The condition is common, affecting approximately two or three out of every 100 people. The best time to correct amblyopia is during infancy or early childhood.
What causes amblyopia?
Amblyopia is caused by any condition that affects normal use of the eyes and visual development. In many cases, the conditions associated with amblyopia may be inherited.
Amblyopia has three major causes:
Strabismus (misaligned eyes)
Amblyopia occurs most commonly with misaligned or crossed eyes. The crossed eye "turns off" to avoid double vision, and the child uses only the better eye. The misaligned eye then fails to develop good vision.
Unequal Focus / Refractive Error
Refractive errors are eye conditions that are corrected by wearing glasses. Amblyopia occurs when one eye is out of focus because it is more nearsighted, farsighted or astigmatic than the other.
The unfocused (blurred) eye "turns off" and becomes amblyopic. The eyes can look normal, but one eye has poor vision. This is the most difficult type of amblyopia to detect since the child appears to have normal vision when both eyes are open.
Amblyopia also can occur in both eyes if both eyes are very blurred. This can happen when there is a high amount of nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. This is called bilateral refractive amblyopia.
Cloudiness in the Normally Clear Eye Tissues
An eye disease such as a cataract (a clouding of the eye's naturally clear lens) may lead to amblyopia. Any factor that prevents a clear image from being focused inside the eye can lead to the development of amblyopia in a child. This is often the most severe form of amblyopia.
How is amblyopia diagnosed?
It is not easy to recognize amblyopia. A child may not be aware of having one strong eye and one weak eye. Unless the child has a misaligned eye or other obvious abnormality, there is often no way for parents to tell that something is wrong.
Amblyopia is detected by finding a difference in vision between the two eyes or poor vision in both eyes. Since it is difficult to measure vision in young children, your ophthalmologist often estimates visual acuity by watching how well a baby follows objects with one eye when the other eye is covered.
Using a variety of tests, the ophthalmologist observes the reactions of the baby when one eye is covered. If one eye is amblyopic and the good eye is covered, the baby may attempt to look around the patch, try to pull it off, or cry.
Poor vision in one eye does not always mean that a child has amblyopia. Vision can often be improved by prescribing glasses for a child.
Your ophthalmologist will also carefully examine the interior of the eye to see if other eye diseases may be causing decreased vision.
These diseases include:
- Other disorders of the inner eye
How is amblyopia treated?
To correct amblyopia, a child must be made to use the weak eye. This is usually done by patching or covering the strong eye, often for weeks or months.
Even after vision has been restored in the weak eye, part-time patching may be required over a period of years to maintain the improvement. Glasses may be prescribed to correct errors in focusing. If glasses alone do not improve vision, then patching is necessary.
Amblyopia also may be treated by blurring the vision in the good eye with special eyedrops or lenses to force the child to use the amblyopic eye. Amblyopia is usually treated before surgery to correct misaligned eyes, and patching is often continued after surgery as well.
If your ophthalmologist finds a cataract or other abnormality, surgery may be required to correct the problem. An intraocular lens may be implanted. After surgery, glasses or contact lenses can be used to restore focusing while patching improves vision.
Amblyopia cannot usually be cured by treating the cause alone. The weaker eye must be made stronger in order to see normally. Prescribing glasses or performing surgery can correct the cause of amblyopia, but your ophthalmologist must also treat the amblyopia itself.
What is astigmatism?
Astigmatism occurs when the front surface of your eye (cornea) or the lens inside the eye is slightly irregular in shape, resulting in vision being blurred at all distances. Astigmatism is not a disease, but is actually a vision condition that is quite common.
What causes astigmatism?
When the front of your eye or the lens inside the eye is more oval than round, light does not focus properly on the back of your eye (retina). The causes of this irregular shape are unclear. In some cases, it may be hereditary or it may result from such factors as pressure of the eyelids on the cornea.
How common is astigmatism?
Most people have some degree of astigmatism. However, only moderate to highly astigmatic eyes may need corrective lenses.
What are signs/symptoms of astigmatism?
People with severe astigmatism will usually have blurred or distorted vision. Those with mild astigmatism may experience headaches, eye strain, fatigue or blurred vision at certain distances.
How is astigmatism diagnosed?
A comprehensive eye examination by your doctor of optometry will include tests for astigmatism.
Can astigmatism by corrected?
Almost all levels of astigmatism can be optically corrected with properly prescribed and fitted eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Does astigmatism get progressively worse?
Astigmatism may increase slowly. Regular optometric care can, however, help to insure that proper vision is maintained.
How will astigmatism affect my lifestyle?
You may have to adjust to wearing eyeglasses or cheaper contact lenses in the market, if you do not wear them now. Other than that, astigmatism probably will not significantly affect your lifestyle at all.
For more information, ask your optometrist.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. It can be compared to a window that is frosted or yellowed.
There are many misconceptions about cataract. Cataract is not:
- a film over the eye;
- caused by overusing the eyes;
- spread from one eye to the other;
- a cause of irreversible blindness.
Common symptoms of cataract include:
- a painless blurring of vision;
- glare, or light sensitivity;
- poor night vision;
- double vision in one eye;
- needing brighter light to read;
- fading or yellowing of colors.
The amount and pattern of cloudiness within the lens can vary. If the cloudiness is not near the center of the lens, you may not be aware that a cataract is present.
What causes cataract?
The most common type of cataract is related to aging of the eye. Causes of cataract include:
- family history;
- medical problems, such as diabetes;
- injury to the eye;
- medications, especially steroids;
- long-term, unprotected exposure to sunlight;
- previous eye surgery;
- unknown factors.
How is a cataract detected?
A thorough eye examination by your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) can detect the presence of a cataract, as well as any other conditions that may be causing blurred vision or other eye problems.
Problems with other parts of the eye (eg, cornea, retina, optic nerve) can be responsible for vision loss and may prevent you from having much or any improvement in vision after cataract surgery. If improvement in your vision is unlikely, cataract removal may not be recommended. Your ophthalmologist can tell you how much visual improvement is likely.
How fast does a cataract develop?
How quickly the cataract develops varies among individuals, and may even be different between the two eyes. Most age-related cataracts progress gradually over a period of years.
Other cataracts, especially in younger people and people with diabetes, may progress rapidly over a short time. It is not possible to predict exactly how fast cataracts will develop in any given person.
How is cataract treated?
Surgery is the only way a cataract can be removed. However, if symptoms of cataract are not bothering you very much, surgery may not be needed. Sometimes a simple change in your eyeglass prescription may be helpful.
There are no medications, dietary supplements or exercises that have been shown to prevent or cure cataracts.
Protection from excessive sunlight may help slow the progression of cataracts. Sunglasses that screen out ultraviolet (UV) light rays or regular eyeglasses with a clear, anti-UV coating offer this protection.
When should surgery be done?
Surgery should be considered when cataracts cause enough loss of vision to interfere with your daily activities.
It is not true that cataracts need to be "ripe" before they can be removed, or that they need to be removed just because they are present.
Cataract surgery can be performed when your visual needs require it. You must decide if you can see to do your job and drive safely or, if you can read and watch TV in comfort. Can you see well enough to perform daily tasks, such as cooking, shopping, yard work or taking medications without difficulty?
Based on your symptoms, you and your ophthalmologist should decide together when surgery is appropriate.
What can I expect from cataract surgery?
Over 1.4 million people have cataract surgery each year in the United States, and more than 95% of those surgeries are performed with no complications.
During cataract surgery, which is usually performed under local or topical anesthesia as an outpatient procedure, the cloudy lens is removed from the eye. In most cases, the focusing power of the natural lens is restored by replacing it with a permanent intraocular lens implant.
Your ophthalmologist performs this delicate surgery using a microscope, miniature instruments and other modern technology.
In many people who have cataract surgery, the natural capsule that supports the intraocular lens becomes cloudy. Laser surgery is used to open this cloudy capsule, restoring clear vision.
You will have to take eyedrops as your ophthalmologist directs. Your surgeon will check your eye several times to make sure it is healing properly.
Cataract surgery is a highly successful procedure and you can even wear corrective contact lenses that's comfortable for you. Improved vision is the result in over 95% of cases, unless there is a problem with the cornea, retina, optic nerve or other structures. It is important to understand that complications can occur during or after the surgery, some severe enough to limit vision. If you experience even the slightest problem after cataract surgery, your ophthalmologist will want to hear from you immediately.
Cataracts are a common cause of decreased vision, particularly for the elderly, but they are treatable. Your ophthalmologist can tell you whether cataract or some other problem is the cause of your vision loss and can help you decide if cataract surgery is appropriate for you.
The Cornea and Corneal Diseases
The cornea is the eye's outermost layer. It is the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye.
Structure of the Cornea
Although the cornea is clear and seems to lack substance, it is actually a highly organized group of cells and proteins. Unlike most tissues in the body, the cornea contains no blood vessels to nourish or protect it against infection. Instead, the cornea receives its nourishment from the tears and aqueous humor that fills the chamber behind it. The cornea must remain transparent to refract light properly, and the presence of even the tiniest blood vessels can interfere with this process. To see well, all layers of the cornea must be free of any cloudy or opaque areas.
The corneal tissue is arranged in five basic layers, each having an important function. These five layers are:
The epithelium is the cornea's outermost region, comprising about 10 percent of the tissue's thickness. The epithelium functions primarily to: (1) Block the passage of foreign material, such as dust, water, and bacteria, into the eye and other layers of the cornea; and (2) Provide a smooth surface that absorbs oxygen and cell nutrients from tears, then distributes these nutrients to the rest of the cornea. The epithelium is filled with thousands of tiny nerve endings that make the cornea extremely sensitive to pain when rubbed or scratched. The part of the epithelium that serves as the foundation on which the epithelial cells anchor and organize themselves is called the basement membrane.
Lying directly below the basement membrane of the epithelium is a transparent sheet of tissue known as Bowman's layer. It is composed of strong layered protein fibers called collagen. Once injured, Bowman's layer can form a scar as it heals. If these scars are large and centrally located, some vision loss can occur.
Beneath Bowman's layer is the stroma, which comprises about 90 percent of the cornea's thickness. It consists primarily of water (78 percent) and collagen (16 percent), and does not contain any blood vessels. Collagen gives the cornea its strength, elasticity, and form. The collagen's unique shape, arrangement, and spacing are essential in producing the cornea's light-conducting transparency.
Under the stroma is Descemet's membrane, a thin but strong sheet of tissue that serves as a protective barrier against infection and injuries. Descemet's membrane is composed of collagen fibers (different from those of the stroma) and is made by the endothelial cells that lie below it. Descemet's membrane is regenerated readily after injury.
The endothelium is the extremely thin, innermost layer of the cornea. Endothelial cells are essential in keeping the cornea clear. Normally, fluid leaks slowly from inside the eye into the middle corneal layer (stroma). The endothelium's primary task is to pump this excess fluid out of the stroma. Without this pumping action, the stroma would swell with water, become hazy, and ultimately opaque. In a healthy eye, a perfect balance is maintained between the fluid moving into the cornea and fluid being pumped out of the cornea. Once endothelium cells are destroyed by disease or trauma, they are lost forever. If too many endothelial cells are destroyed, corneal edema and blindness ensue, with corneal transplantation the only available therapy.
About 120 million people in the United States wear eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. These vision disorders--called refractive errors-- affect the cornea and are the most common of all vision problems in this country.
Refractive errors occur when the curve of the cornea is irregularly shaped (too steep or too flat). When the cornea is of normal shape and curvature, it bends, or refracts, light on the retina with precision. However, when the curve of the cornea is irregularly shaped, the cornea bends light imperfectly on the retina. This affects good vision. The refractive process is similar to the way a camera takes a picture. The cornea and lens in your eye act as the camera lens. The retina is similar to the film. If the image is not focused properly, the film (or retina) receives a blurry image. The image that your retina "sees" then goes to your brain, which tells you what the image is.
When the cornea is curved too much, or if the eye is too long, faraway objects will appear blurry because they are focused in front of the retina. This is called myopia, or nearsightedness. Myopia affects over 25 percent of all adult Americans.
Hyperopia, or farsightedness, is the opposite of myopia. Distant objects are clear, and close-up objects appear blurry. With hyperopia, images focus on a point beyond the retina. Hyperopia results from an eye that is too short.
Astigmatism is a condition in which the uneven curvature of the cornea blurs and distorts both distant and near objects. A normal cornea is round, with even curves from side to side and top to bottom. With astigmatism, the cornea is shaped more like the back of a spoon, curved more in one direction than in another. This causes light rays to have more than one focal point and focus on two separate areas of the retina, distorting the visual image. Two-thirds of Americans with myopia also have astigmatism.
Refractive errors are usually corrected by eyeglasses or contact lenses. Although these are safe and effective methods for treating refractive errors, refractive surgeries are becoming an increasingly popular option.
Because the cornea is as smooth and clear as glass but is strong and durable, it helps the eye in two ways:
- It helps to shield the rest of the eye from germs, dust, and other harmful matter. The cornea shares this protective task with the eyelids, the eye socket, tears, and the sclera, or white part of the eye.
- The cornea acts as the eye's outermost lens. It functions like a window that controls and focuses the entry of light into the eye. The cornea contributes between 65-75 percent of the eye's total focusing power.
When light strikes the cornea, it bends--or refracts--the incoming light onto the lens. The lens further refocuses that light onto the retina, a layer of light sensing cells lining the back of the eye that starts the translation of light into vision. For you to see clearly, light rays must be focused by the cornea and lens to fall precisely on the retina. The retina converts the light rays into impulses that are sent through the optic nerve to the brain, which interprets them as images.
The refractive process is similar to the way a camera takes a picture. The cornea and lens in the eye act as the camera lens. The retina is similar to the film. If the image is not focused properly, the film (or retina) receives a blurry image.
The cornea also serves as a filter, screening out some of the most damaging ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths in sunlight. Without this protection, the lens and the retina would be highly susceptible to injury from UV radiation.
The cornea copes very well with minor injuries or abrasions. If the highly sensitive cornea is scratched, healthy cells slide over quickly and patch the injury before infection occurs and vision is affected. If the scratch penetrates the cornea more deeply, however, the healing process will take longer, at times resulting in greater pain, blurred vision, tearing, redness, and extreme sensitivity to light. These symptoms require professional treatment. Deeper scratches can also cause corneal scarring, resulting in a haze on the cornea that can greatly impair vision. In this case, a corneal transplant may be needed.
Some diseases and disorders of the cornea are:
- Allergies. Allergies affecting the eye are fairly common. The most common allergies are those related to pollen, particularly when the weather is warm and dry. Symptoms can include redness, itching, tearing, burning, stinging, and watery discharge, although they are not usually severe enough to require medical attention. Antihistamine decongestant eyedrops can effectively reduce these symptoms, as does rain and cooler weather, which decreases the amount of pollen in the air.
An increasing number of eye allergy cases are related to medications and contact lens wear. Also, animal hair and certain cosmetics, such as mascara, face creams, and eyebrow pencil, can cause allergies that affect the eye. Touching or rubbing eyes after handling nail polish, soaps, or chemicals may cause an allergic reaction. Some people have sensitivity to lip gloss and eye makeup. Allergy symptoms are temporary and can eliminated by not having contact with the offending cosmetic or detergent.
- Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye). This term describes a group of diseases that cause swelling, itching, burning, and redness of the conjunctiva, the protective membrane that lines the eyelids and covers exposed areas of the sclera, or white of the eye. Conjunctivitis can spread from one person to another and affects millions of Americans at any given time. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, allergy, environmental irritants, a contact lens product, eyedrops, or eye ointments.
At its onset, conjunctivitis is usually painless and does not adversely affect vision. The infection will clear in most cases without requiring medical care. But for some forms of conjunctivitis, treatment will be needed. If treatment is delayed, the infection may worsen and cause corneal inflammation and a loss of vision.
- Corneal Infections. Sometimes the cornea is damaged after a foreign object has penetrated the tissue, such as from a poke in the eye. At other times, bacteria or fungi from a contaminated contact lens can pass into the cornea. Situations like these can cause painful inflammation and corneal infections called keratitis. These infections can reduce visual clarity, produce corneal discharges, and perhaps erode the cornea. Corneal infections can also lead to corneal scarring, which can impair vision and may require a corneal transplant.
As a general rule, the deeper the corneal infection, the more severe the symptoms and complications. It should be noted that corneal infections, although relatively infrequent, are the most serious complication of contact lens wear.
Minor corneal infections are commonly treated with anti-bacterial eye drops. If the problem is severe, it may require more intensive antibiotic or anti-fungal treatment to eliminate the infection, as well as steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation. Frequent visits to an eye care professional may be necessary for several months to eliminate the problem.
- Dry Eye. The continuous production and drainage of tears is important to the eye's health. Tears keep the eye moist, help wounds heal, and protect against eye infection. In people with dry eye, the eye produces fewer or less quality tears and is unable to keep its surface lubricated and comfortable.
The tear film consists of three layers--an outer, oily (lipid) layer that keeps tears from evaporating too quickly and helps tears remain on the eye; a middle (aqueous) layer that nourishes the cornea and conjunctiva; and a bottom (mucin) layer that helps to spread the aqueous layer across the eye to ensure that the eye remains wet. As we age, the eyes usually produce fewer tears. Also, in some cases, the lipid and mucin layers produced by the eye are of such poor quality that tears cannot remain in the eye long enough to keep the eye sufficiently lubricated.
The main symptom of dry eye is usually a scratchy or sandy feeling as if something is in the eye. Other symptoms may include stinging or burning of the eye; episodes of excess tearing that follow periods of very dry sensation; a stringy discharge from the eye; and pain and redness of the eye. Sometimes people with dry eye experience heaviness of the eyelids or blurred, changing, or decreased vision, although loss of vision is uncommon.
Dry eye is more common in women, especially after menopause. Surprisingly, some people with dry eye may have tears that run down their cheeks. This is because the eye may be producing less of the lipid and mucin layers of the tear film, which help keep tears in the eye. When this happens, tears do not stay in the eye long enough to thoroughly moisten it.
Dry eye can occur in climates with dry air, as well as with the use of some drugs, including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, tranquilizers, and anti-depressant drugs. People with dry eye should let their health care providers know all the medications they are taking, since some of them may intensify dry eye symptoms.
People with connective tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also develop dry eye. It is important to note that dry eye is sometimes a symptom of Sjögren's syndrome, a disease that attacks the body's lubricating glands, such as the tear and salivary glands. A complete physical examination may diagnose any underlying diseases.
Artificial tears, which lubricate the eye, are the principal treatment for dry eye. They are available over-the-counter as eye drops. Sterile ointments are sometimes used at night to help prevent the eye from drying. Using humidifiers, wearing wrap-around glasses when outside, and avoiding outside windy and dry conditions may bring relief. For people with severe cases of dry eye, temporary or permanent closure of the tear drain (small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye) may be helpful.
- Fuchs' Dystrophy. Fuchs' dystrophy is a slowly progressing disease that usually affects both eyes and is slightly more common in women than in men. Although doctors can often see early signs of Fuchs' dystrophy in people in their 30s and 40s, the disease rarely affects vision until people reach their 50s and 60s.
Fuchs' dystrophy occurs when endothelial cells gradually deteriorate without any apparent reason. As more endothelial cells are lost over the years, the endothelium becomes less efficient at pumping water out of the stroma. This causes the cornea to swell and distort vision. Eventually, the epithelium also takes on water, resulting in pain and severe visual impairment.
Epithelial swelling damages vision by changing the cornea's normal curvature, and causing a sight-impairing haze to appear in the tissue. Epithelial swelling will also produce tiny blisters on the corneal surface. When these blisters burst, they are extremely painful.
At first, a person with Fuchs' dystrophy will awaken with blurred vision that will gradually clear during the day. This occurs because the cornea is normally thicker in the morning; it retains fluids during sleep that evaporate in the tear film while we are awake. As the disease worsens, this swelling will remain constant and reduce vision throughout the day.
When treating the disease, doctors will try first to reduce the swelling with drops, ointments, or soft contact lenses. They also may instruct a person to use a hair dryer, held at arm's length or directed across the face, to dry out the epithelial blisters. This can be done two or three times a day.
When the disease interferes with daily activities, a person may need to consider having a corneal transplant to restore sight. The short-term success rate of corneal transplantation is quite good for people with Fuchs' dystrophy. However, some studies suggest that the long-term survival of the new cornea can be a problem.
A corneal dystrophy is a condition in which one or more parts of the cornea lose their normal clarity due to a buildup of cloudy material. There are over 20 corneal dystrophies that affect all parts of the cornea. These diseases share many traits:
- They are usually inherited.
- They affect the right and left eyes equally.
- They are not caused by outside factors, such as injury or diet.
- Most progress gradually.
- Most usually begin in one of the five corneal layers and may later spread to nearby layers.
- Most do not affect other parts of the body, nor are they related to diseases affecting other parts of the eye or body.
- Most can occur in otherwise totally healthy people, male or female.
Corneal dystrophies affect vision in widely differing ways. Some cause severe visual impairment, while a few cause no vision problems and are discovered during a routine eye examination. Other dystrophies may cause repeated episodes of pain without leading to permanent loss of vision.
Some of the most common corneal dystrophies include Fuchs' dystrophy, keratoconus, lattice dystrophy, and map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy.
- Herpes Zoster (Shingles). This infection is produced by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an initial outbreak of chickenpox (often during childhood), the virus remains inactive within the nerve cells of the central nervous system. But in some people, the varicella-zoster virus will reactivate at another time in their lives. When this occurs, the virus travels down long nerve fibers and infects some part of the body, producing a blistering rash (shingles), fever, painful inflammations of the affected nerve fibers, and a general feeling of sluggishness.
Varicella-zoster virus may travel to the head and neck, perhaps involving an eye, part of the nose, cheek, and forehead. In about 40 percent of those with shingles in these areas, the virus infects the cornea. Doctors will often prescribe oral anti-viral treatment to reduce the risk of the virus infecting cells deep within the tissue, which could inflame and scar the cornea. The disease may also cause decreased corneal sensitivity, meaning that foreign matter, such as eyelashes, in the eye are not felt as keenly. For many, this decreased sensitivity will be permanent.
Although shingles can occur in anyone exposed to the varicella-zoster virus, research has established two general risk factors for the disease: (1) Advanced age; and (2) A weakened immune system. Studies show that people over age 80 have a five times greater chance of having shingles than adults between the ages of 20 and 40. Unlike herpes simplex I, the varicella-zoster virus does not usually flare up more than once in adults with normally functioning immune systems.
Be aware that corneal problems may arise months after the shingles are gone. For this reason, it is important that people who have had facial shingles schedule follow-up eye examinations.
- Iridocorneal Endothelial Syndrome. More common in women and usually diagnosed between ages 30-50, iridocorneal endothelial (ICE) syndrome has three main features:
- Visible changes in the iris, the colored part of the eye that regulates the amount of light entering the eye;
- Swelling of the cornea; and
- The development of glaucoma, a disease that can cause severe vision loss when normal fluid inside the eye cannot drain properly. ICE is usually present in only one eye.
ICE syndrome is actually a grouping of three closely linked conditions: iris nevus (or Cogan-Reese) syndrome; Chandler's syndrome; and essential (progressive) iris atrophy (hence the acronym ICE). The most common feature of this group of diseases is the movement of endothelial cells off the cornea onto the iris. This loss of cells from the cornea often leads to corneal swelling, distortion of the iris, and variable degrees of distortion of the pupil, the adjustable opening at the center of the iris that allows varying amounts of light to enter the eye. This cell movement also plugs the fluid outflow channels of the eye, causing glaucoma.
The cause of this disease is unknown. While we do not yet know how to keep ICE syndrome from progressing, the glaucoma associated with the disease can be treated with medication, and a corneal transplant can treat the corneal swelling.
- Keratoconus. This disorder--a progressive thinning of the cornea--is the most common corneal dystrophy in the U.S., affecting one in every 2000 Americans. It is more prevalent in teenagers and adults in their 20s. Keratoconus arises when the middle of the cornea thins and gradually bulges outward, forming a rounded cone shape. This abnormal curvature changes the cornea's refractive power, producing moderate to severe distortion (astigmatism) and blurriness (nearsightedness) of vision. Keratoconus may also cause swelling and a sight-impairing scarring of the tissue.
Studies indicate that keratoconus stems from one of several possible causes:
- An inherited corneal abnormality. About seven percent of those with the condition have a family history of keratoconus.
- An eye injury, i.e., excessive eye rubbing or wearing hard contact lenses for many years.
- Certain eye diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa, retinopathy of prematurity, and vernal keratoconjunctivitis.
- Systemic diseases, such as Leber's congenital amaurosis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Down syndrome, and osteogenesis imperfecta.
Keratoconus usually affects both eyes. At first, people can correct their vision with eyeglasses. But as the astigmatism worsens, they must rely on specially fitted contact lenses to reduce the distortion and provide better vision. Although finding a comfortable contact lens can be an extremely frustrating and difficult process, it is crucial because a poorly fitting lens could further damage the cornea and make wearing a contact lens intolerable.
In most cases, the cornea will stabilize after a few years without ever causing severe vision problems. But in about 10 to 20 percent of people with keratoconus, the cornea will eventually become too scarred or will not tolerate a contact lens. If either of these problems occur, a corneal transplant may be needed. This operation is successful in more than 90 percent of those with advanced keratoconus. Several studies have also reported that 80 percent or more of these patients have 20/40 vision or better after the operation.
The National Eye Institute is conducting a natural history study--called the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus Study--to identify factors that influence the severity and progression of keratoconus.
- Lattice Dystrophy. Lattice dystrophy gets its name from an accumulation of amyloid deposits, or abnormal protein fibers, throughout the middle and anterior stroma. During an eye examination, the doctor sees these deposits in the stroma as clear, comma-shaped overlapping dots and branching filaments, creating a lattice effect. Over time, the lattice lines will grow opaque and involve more of the stroma. They will also gradually converge, giving the cornea a cloudiness that may also reduce vision.
In some people, these abnormal protein fibers can accumulate under the cornea's outer layer--the epithelium. This can cause erosion of the epithelium. This condition is known as recurrent epithelial erosion. These erosions: (1) Alter the cornea's normal curvature, resulting in temporary vision problems; and (2) Expose the nerves that line the cornea, causing severe pain. Even the involuntary act of blinking can be painful.
To ease this pain, a doctor may prescribe eye drops and ointments to reduce the friction on the eroded cornea. In some cases, an eye patch may be used to immobilize the eyelids. With effective care, these erosions usually heal within three days, although occasional sensations of pain may occur for the next six-to-eight weeks.
By about age 40, some people with lattice dystrophy will have scarring under the epithelium, resulting in a haze on the cornea that can greatly obscure vision. In this case, a corneal transplant may be needed. Although people with lattice dystrophy have an excellent chance for a successful transplant, the disease may also arise in the donor cornea in as little as three years. In one study, about half of the transplant patients with lattice dystrophy had a recurrence of the disease from between two to 26 years after the operation. Of these, 15 percent required a second corneal transplant. Early lattice and recurrent lattice arising in the donor cornea responds well to treatment with the excimer laser.
Although lattice dystrophy can occur at any time in life, the condition usually arises in children between the ages of two and seven.
- Map-Dot-Fingerprint Dystrophy. This dystrophy occurs when the epithelium's basement membrane develops abnormally (the basement membrane serves as the foundation on which the epithelial cells, which absorb nutrients from tears, anchor and organize themselves). When the basement membrane develops abnormally, the epithelial cells cannot properly adhere to it. This, in turn, causes recurrent epithelial erosions, in which the epithelium's outermost layer rises slightly, exposing a small gap between the outermost layer and the rest of the cornea. With this abnormality, your ophthalmologist might prohibit you to use a brand of colored contact lenses for your safety.
Epithelial erosions can be a chronic problem. They may alter the cornea's normal curvature, causing periodic blurred vision. They may also expose the nerve endings that line the tissue, resulting in moderate to severe pain lasting as long as several days. Generally, the pain will be worse on awakening in the morning. Other symptoms include sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, and foreign body sensation in the eye.
Map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy, which tends to occur in both eyes, usually affects adults between the ages of 40 and 70, although it can develop earlier in life. Also known as epithelial basement membrane dystrophy, map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy gets its name from the unusual appearance of the cornea during an eye examination. Most often, the affected epithelium will have a map-like appearance, i.e., large, slightly gray outlines that look like a continent on a map. There may also be clusters of opaque dots underneath or close to the map-like patches. Less frequently, the irregular basement membrane will form concentric lines in the central cornea that resemble small fingerprints.
Typically, map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy will flare up occasionally for a few years and then go away on its own, with no lasting loss of vision. Most people never know that they have map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy, since they do not have any pain or vision loss. However, if treatment is needed, doctors will try to control the pain associated with the epithelial erosions. They may patch the eye to immobilize it, or prescribe lubricating eye drops and ointments. With treatment, these erosions usually heal within three days, although periodic flashes of pain may occur for several weeks thereafter. Other treatments include anterior corneal punctures to allow better adherence of cells; corneal scraping to remove eroded areas of the cornea and allow regeneration of healthy epithelial tissue; and use of the excimer laser to remove surface irregularities.
- Ocular Herpes. Herpes of the eye, or ocular herpes, is a recurrent viral infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus and is the most common infectious cause of corneal blindness in the U.S. Previous studies show that once people develop ocular herpes, they have up to a 50 percent chance of having a recurrence. This second flare-up could come weeks or even years after the initial occurrence.
Ocular herpes can produce a painful sore on the eyelid or surface of the eye and cause inflammation of the cornea. Prompt treatment with anti-viral drugs helps to stop the herpes virus from multiplying and destroying epithelial cells. However, the infection may spread deeper into the cornea and develop into a more severe infection called stromal keratitis, which causes the body's immune system to attack and destroy stromal cells. Stromal keratitis is more difficult to treat than less severe ocular herpes infections. Recurrent episodes of stromal keratitis can cause scarring of the cornea, which can lead to loss of vision and possibly blindness.
Like other herpetic infections, herpes of the eye can be controlled. An estimated 400,000 Americans have had some form of ocular herpes. Each year, nearly 50,000 new and recurring cases are diagnosed in the United States, with the more serious stromal keratitis accounting for about 25 percent. In one large study, researchers found that recurrence rate of ocular herpes was 10 percent within one year, 23 percent within two years, and 63 percent within 20 years. Some factors believed to be associated with recurrence include fever, stress, sunlight, and eye injury.
The National Eye Institute supported the Herpetic Eye Disease Study, a group of clinical trials that studied various treatments for severe ocular herpes.
- Pterygium. A pterygium is a pinkish, triangular-shaped tissue growth on the cornea. Some pterygia grow slowly throughout a person's life, while others stop growing after a certain point. A pterygium rarely grows so large that it begins to cover the pupil of the eye.
Pterygia are more common in sunny climates and in the 20-40 age group. Scientists do not know what causes pterygia to develop. However, since people who have pterygia usually have spent a significant time outdoors, many doctors believe ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun may be a factor. In areas where sunlight is strong, wearing protective eyeglasses, sunglasses, and/or hats with brims are suggested. While some studies report a higher prevalence of pterygia in men than in women, this may reflect different rates of exposure to UV light.
Because a pterygium is visible, many people want to have it removed for cosmetic reasons. It is usually not too noticeable unless it becomes red and swollen from dust or air pollutants. Surgery to remove a pterygium is not recommended unless it affects vision. If a pterygium is surgically removed, it may grow back, particularly if the patient is less than 40 years of age. Lubricants can reduce the redness and provide relief from the chronic irritation.
- Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), also called erythema multiforme major, is a disorder of the skin that can also affect the eyes. SJS is characterized by painful, blistery lesions on the skin and the mucous membranes (the thin, moist tissues that line body cavities) of the mouth, throat, genital region, and eyelids. SJS can cause serious eye problems, such as severe conjunctivitis; iritis, an inflammation inside the eye; corneal blisters and erosions; and corneal holes. In some cases, the ocular complications from SJS can be disabling and lead to severe vision loss.
Scientists are not certain why SJS develops. The most commonly cited cause of SJS is an adverse allergic drug reaction. Almost any drug--but most particularly sulfa drugs--can cause SJS. The allergic reaction to the drug may not occur until 7-14 days after first using it. SJS can also be preceded by a viral infection, such as herpes or the mumps, and its accompanying fever, sore throat, and sluggishness. Treatment for the eye may include artificial tears, antibiotics, or corticosteroids. About one-third of all patients diagnosed with SJS have recurrences of the disease.
SJS occurs twice as often in men as women, and most cases appear in children and young adults under 30, although it can develop in people at any age.
A corneal transplant involves replacing a diseased or scarred cornea with a new one. When the cornea becomes cloudy, light cannot penetrate the eye to reach the light-sensitive retina. Poor vision or blindness may result.
In corneal transplant surgery, the surgeon removes the central portion of the cloudy cornea and replaces it with a clear cornea, usually donated through an eye bank. A trephine, an instrument like a cookie cutter, is used to remove the cloudy cornea. The surgeon places the new cornea in the opening and sews it with a very fine thread. The thread stays in for months or even years until the eye heals properly (removing the thread is quite simple and can easily be done in an ophthalmologist's office). Following surgery, eye drops to help promote healing will be needed for several months.
Corneal transplants are very common in the United States; about 40,000 are performed each year. The chances of success of this operation have risen dramatically because of technological advances, such as less irritating sutures, or threads, which are often finer than a human hair; and the surgical microscope. Corneal transplantation has restored sight to many, who a generation ago would have been blinded permanently by corneal injury, infection, or inherited corneal disease or degeneration.
Even with a fairly high success rate, some problems can develop, such as rejection of the new cornea. Warning signs for rejection are decreased vision, increased redness of the eye, increased pain, and increased sensitivity to light. If any of these last for more than six hours, you should immediately call your ophthalmologist. Rejection can be successfully treated if medication is administered at the first sign of symptoms.
A study supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI) suggests that matching the blood type, but not tissue type, of the recipient with that of the cornea donor may improve the success rate of corneal transplants in people at high risk for graft failure. Approximately 20 percent of corneal transplant patients--between 6000-8000 a year--reject their donor corneas. The NEI-supported study, called the Collaborative Corneal Transplantation Study, found that high-risk patients may reduce the likelihood of corneal rejection if their blood types match those of the cornea donors. The study also concluded that intensive steroid treatment after transplant surgery improves the chances for a successful transplant.
Phototherapeutic keratectomy (PTK) is one of the latest advances in eye care for the treatment of corneal dystrophies, corneal scars, and certain corneal infections. Only a short time ago, people with these disorders would most likely have needed a corneal transplant. By combining the precision of the excimer laser with the control of a computer, doctors can vaporize microscopically thin layers of diseased corneal tissue and etch away the surface irregularities associated with many corneal dystrophies and scars. Surrounding areas suffer relatively little trauma. New tissue can then grow over the now-smooth surface. Recovery from the procedure takes a matter of days, rather than months as with a transplant. The return of vision can occur rapidly, especially if the cause of the problem is confined to the top layer of the cornea. Studies have shown close to an 85 percent success rate in corneal repair using PTK for well-selected patients.
The Excimer Laser
One of the technologies developed to treat corneal disease is the excimer laser. This device emits pulses of ultraviolet light--a laser beam--to etch away surface irregularities of corneal tissue. Because of the laser's precision, damage to healthy, adjoining tissue is reduced or eliminated.
The PTK procedure is especially useful for people with inherited disorders, whose scars or other corneal opacities limit vision by blocking the way images form on the retina. PTK has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Current Corneal Research
Vision research funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI) is leading to progress in understanding and treating corneal disease.
For example, scientists are learning how transplanting corneal cells from a patient's healthy eye to the diseased eye can treat certain conditions that previously caused blindness. Vision researchers continue to investigate ways to enhance corneal healing and eliminate the corneal scarring that can threaten sight. Also, understanding how genes produce and maintain a healthy cornea will help in treating corneal disease.
Genetic studies in families afflicted with corneal dystrophies have yielded new insight into 13 different corneal dystrophies, including keratoconus. To identify factors that influence the severity and progression of keratoconus, the NEI is conducting a natural history study--called the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus (CLEK) Study--that is following more than 1200 patients with the disease. Scientists are looking for answers to how rapidly their keratoconus will progress, how bad their vision will become, and whether they will need cornealsurgery to treat it. Results from the CLEK Study will enable eye care practitioners to better manage this complex disease.
The NEI also supported the Herpetic Eye Disease Study (HEDS), a group of clinical trials that studied various treatments for severe ocular herpes. HEDS researchers reported that oral acyclovir reduced by 41 percent the chance that ocular herpes, a recurrent disease, would return. The study clearly showed that acyclovir therapy can benefit people with all forms of ocular herpes. Current HEDS research is examining the role of psychological stress and other factors as triggers of ocular herpes recurrences.
This booklet is for people with diabetic retinopathy and their families and friends. It provides information about diabetic retinopathy and answers questions about the cause and symptoms of this progressive eye disease. Diagnosis and types of treatment are described.
The National Eye Institute (NEI) conducts and supports research that leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role in reducing visual impairment and blindness. The NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness. It occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision.
If you have diabetic retinopathy, at first you may notice no changes to your vision. But over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
What are the stages of diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy has four stages:
- Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy. At this earliest stage, microaneurysms occur. They are small areas of balloon-like swelling in the retina's tiny blood vessels.
- Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy. As the disease progresses, some blood vessels that nourish the retina are blocked.
- Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy. Many more blood vessels are blocked, depriving several areas of the retina with their blood supply. These areas of the retina send signals to the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment.
Proliferative Retinopathy. At this advanced stage, the signals sent by the retina for nourishment trigger the growth of new blood vessels. This condition is called proliferative retinopathy. These new blood vessels are abnormal and fragile. They grow along the retina and along the surface of the clear, vitreous gel that fills the inside of the eye. (See diagram above.)
By themselves, these blood vessels do not cause symptoms or vision loss. However, they have thin, fragile walls. If they leak blood, severe vision loss and even blindness can result.
Who is at risk for diabetic retinopathy?
All people with diabetes--both type 1 and type 2--are at risk. That's why everyone with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Between 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. If you have diabetic retinopathy, your doctor can recommend treatment to help prevent its progression.
During pregnancy, diabetic retinopathy may be a problem for women with diabetes. To protect vision, every pregnant woman with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible. Your doctor may recommend additional exams during your pregnancy.
How does diabetic retinopathy cause vision loss?
Blood vessels damaged from diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss in two ways:
- Fragile, abnormal blood vessels can develop and leak blood into the center of the eye, blurring vision. This is proliferative retinopathy and is the fourth and most advanced stage of the disease.
- Fluid can leak into the center of the macula, the part of the eye where sharp, straight-ahead vision occurs. The fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision. This condition is called macular edema. It can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy, although it is more likely to occur as the disease progresses. About half of the people with proliferative retinopathy also have macular edema.
Does diabetic retinopathy have any symptoms?
Diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs. Don't wait for symptoms. Be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
What are the symptoms of proliferative retinopathy if bleeding occurs?
At first, you will see a few specks of blood, or spots, "floating" in your vision. If spots occur, see your eye care professional as soon as possible. You may need treatment before more serious bleeding occurs. Hemorrhages tend to happen more than once, often during sleep.
Sometimes, without treatment, the spots clear, and you will see better. However, bleeding can reoccur and cause severely blurred vision. You need to be examined by your eye care professional at the first sign of blurred vision, before more bleeding occurs.
If left untreated, proliferative retinopathy can cause severe vision loss and even blindness. Also, the earlier you receive treatment, the more likely treatment will be effective.
How are macular edema and diabetic retinopathy detected?
Macular edema and diabetic retinopathy are detected during a comprehensive eye exam that includes:
- Visual acuity test. This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
- Dilated eye exam. Drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
- Tonometry. An instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.
Your eye care professional checks your retina for early signs of the disease, including:
- Leaking blood vessels.
- Retinal swelling (macular edema).
- Pale, fatty deposits on the retina--signs of leaking blood vessels.
- Damaged nerve tissue.
- Any changes to the blood vessels.
If your eye care professional believes you need treatment for macular edema, he or she may suggest a fluorescein angiogram. In this test, a special dye is injected into your arm. Pictures are taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in your retina. The test allows your eye care professional to identify any leaking blood vessels and recommend treatment.
How is a macular edema treated?
Macular edema is treated with laser surgery. This procedure is called focal laser treatment. Your doctor places up to several hundred small laser burns in the areas of retinal leakage surrounding the macula. These burns slow the leakage of fluid and reduce the amount of fluid in the retina. The surgery is usually completed in one session. Further treatment may be needed.
A patient may need focal laser surgery more than once to control the leaking fluid. If you have macular edema in both eyes and require laser surgery, generally only one eye will be treated at a time, usually several weeks apart.
Focal laser treatment stabilizes vision. In fact, focal laser treatment reduces the risk of vision loss by 50 percent. In a small number of cases, if vision is lost, it can be improved. Contact your eye care professional if you have vision loss.
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
During the first three stages of diabetic retinopathy, no treatment is needed, unless you have macular edema. To prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy, people with diabetes should control their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol.
Proliferative retinopathy is treated with laser surgery. This procedure is called scatter laser treatment. Scatter laser treatment helps to shrink the abnormal blood vessels. Your doctor places 1,000 to 2,000 laser burns in the areas of the retina away from the macula, causing the abnormal blood vessels to shrink. Because a high number of laser burns are necessary, two or more sessions usually are required to complete treatment. Although you may notice some loss of your side vision, scatter laser treatment can save the rest of your sight. Scatter laser treatment may slightly reduce your color vision and night vision.
Scatter laser treatment works better before the fragile, new blood vessels have started to bleed. That is why it is important to have regular, comprehensive dilated eye exams. Even if bleeding has started, scatter laser treatment may still be possible, depending on the amount of bleeding.
If the bleeding is severe, you may need a surgical procedure called a vitrectomy. During a vitrectomy, blood is removed from the center of your eye.
What happens during laser treatment?
Both focal and scatter laser treatment are performed in your doctor's office or eye clinic. Before the surgery, your doctor will dilate your pupil and apply drops to numb the eye. The area behind your eye also may be numbed to prevent discomfort.
The lights in the office will be dim. As you sit facing the laser machine, your doctor will hold a special lens to your eye. During the procedure, you may see flashes of light. These flashes eventually may create a stinging sensation that can be uncomfortable.
You will need someone to drive you home after surgery. Because your pupil will remain dilated for a few hours, you should bring a pair of sunglasses.
For the rest of the day, your vision will probably be a little blurry. If your eye hurts, your doctor can suggest treatment.
What is a vitrectomy?
If you have a lot of blood in the center of the eye (vitreous gel), you may need a vitrectomy to restore your sight. If you need vitrectomies in both eyes, they are usually done several weeks apart.
A vitrectomy is performed under either local or general anesthesia. Your doctor makes a tiny incision in your eye. Next, a small instrument is used to remove the vitreous gel that is clouded with blood. The vitreous gel is replaced with a salt solution. Because the vitreous gel is mostly water, you will notice no change between the salt solution and the original vitreous gel.
You will probably be able to return home after the vitrectomy. Some people stay in the hospital overnight. Your eye will be red and sensitive. You will need to wear an eye patch for a few days or weeks to protect your eye. You also will need to use medicated eyedrops to protect against infection.
Are scatter laser treatment and vitrectomy effective in treating proliferative retinopathy?
Yes. Both treatments are very effective in reducing vision loss. People with proliferative retinopathy have less than a five percent chance of becoming blind within five years when they get timely and appropriate treatment. Although both treatments have high success rates, they do not cure diabetic retinopathy.
Once you have proliferative retinopathy, you always will be at risk for new bleeding. You may need treatment more than once to protect your sight.
What can I do if I already have lost some vision from diabetic retinopathy?
If you have lost some sight from diabetic retinopathy, ask your eye care professional about low vision services and devices that may help you make the most of your remaining vision. Ask for a referral to a specialist in low vision. Many community organizations and agencies offer information about low vision counseling, training, and other special services for people with visual impairments. A nearby school of medicine or optometry may provide low vision services.
What research is being done?
The National Eye Institute (NEI) is conducting and supporting research that seeks better ways to detect, treat, and prevent vision loss in people with diabetes. This research is conducted through studies in the laboratory and with patients.
For example, researchers are studying drugs that may stop the retina from sending signals to the body to grow new blood vessels. Someday, these drugs may help people control their diabetic retinopathy and reduce the need for laser surgery.
What can I do to protect my vision?
The NEI urges everyone with diabetes to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. If you have diabetic retinopathy, you may need an eye exam more often. People with proliferative retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 95 percent with timely treatment and appropriate followup care.
A major study has shown that better control of blood sugar levels slows the onset and progression of retinopathy. The people with diabetes who kept their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible also had much less kidney and nerve disease. Better control also reduces the need for sight-saving laser surgery.
This level of blood sugar control may not be best for everyone, including some elderly patients, children under age 13, or people with heart disease. Be sure to ask your doctor if such a control program is right for you.
Other studies have shown that controlling elevated blood pressure and cholesterol can reduce the risk of vision loss. Controlling these will help your overall health as well as help protect your vision.
What should I ask my eye care professional?
You can protect yourself against vision loss by working in partnership with your eye care professional. Ask questions and get the information you need to take care of yourself and your family.
What are some questions to ask?
About my eye disease or disorder…
- What is my diagnosis?
- What caused my condition?
- Can my condition be treated?
- How will this condition affect my vision now and in the future?
- Should I watch for any particular symptoms and notify you if they occur?
- Should I make any lifestyle changes?
About my treatment…
- What is the treatment for my condition?
- When will the treatment start and how long will it last?
- What are the benefits of this treatment and how successful is it?
- What are the risks and side effects associated with this treatment?
- Are there foods, drugs, or activities I should avoid while I'm on this treatment?
- If my treatment includes taking medicine, what should I do if I miss a dose?
- Are other treatments available?
About my tests…
- What kinds of tests will I have?
- What can I expect to find out from these tests?
- When will I know the results?
- Do I have to do anything special to prepare for any of the tests?
- Do these tests have any side effects or risks?
- Will I need more tests later?
- If you don't understand your eye care professional's responses, ask questions until you do understand.
- Take notes or get a friend or family member to take notes for you. Or, bring a tape recorder to help you remember the discussion.
- Ask your eye care professional to write down his or her instructions to you.
- Ask your eye care professional for printed material about your condition.
- If you still have trouble understanding your eye care professional's answers, ask where you can go for more information.
- Other members of your health care team, such as nurses and pharmacists, can be good sources of information. Talk to them, too.
Today, patients take an active role in their health care. Be an active patient about your eye care.
If you have diabetes, get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
- Proliferative retinopathy can develop without symptoms. At this advanced stage, you are at high risk for vision loss.
- Macular edema can develop without symptoms at any of the four stages of diabetic retinopathy.
- You can develop both proliferative retinopathy and macular edema and still see fine. However, you are at high risk for vision loss.
Your eye care professional can tell if you have macular edema or any stage of diabetic retinopathy. Whether or not you have symptoms, early detection and timely treatment can prevent vision loss.
Where can I get more information?
For more information about diabetic retinopathy or diabetes, you may wish to contact:
American Academy of Ophthalmology*
P.O. Box 7424
San Francisco, CA 94120-7424
American Optometric Association*
243 North Lindbergh Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63141-7851
American Diabetes Association
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311-1717
1-800-342-2383 (National Headquarters)
1-888-342-2383 (Local Offices)
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International
120 Wall Street
New York, NY 10005-4001
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
1 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3560
National Eye Institute*
National Institutes of Health
2020 Vision Place
Bethesda, MD 20892-3655
Prevent Blindness America*
500 East Remington Road
Schaumburg, IL 60173-4557
* These organizations also provide information on low vision.
For more information about low vision services and programs, you may wish to contact:
American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10011-2006
Council of Citizens with Low Vision International
111 East 59th Street
New York, NY 10022-1202
National Association for Visually Handicapped
22 West 21st Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10010-6943
**PDF files require the free Adobe® Acrobat Reader software for viewing. Attention people with visual disabilities: please visit access.adobe.com to work more effectively with PDF files.
The National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the Federal government's principal agency for conducting and supporting vision research. Inclusion of an item in this publication does not imply the endorsement by the NEI or the NIH.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steals sight without warning and often without symptoms. Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires and is responsible for carrying the images we see to the brain.
It was once thought that high intraocular pressure (IOP) was the main cause of this optic nerve damage. Although IOP is clearly a risk factor, we now know that other factors must also be involved because even people with "normal" IOP can experience vision loss from glaucoma.
Different Types of Glaucoma
The two main types of glaucoma are open angle glaucoma, or primary open angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle closure glaucoma.
Use this simple test to determine your risk factor for glaucoma
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma
Angle Closure Glaucoma
Normal Tension Glaucoma (NTG)
Cataracts and Glaucoma
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma
This is the most common form of glaucoma, affecting about three million Americans. It happens when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time. The inner eye pressure (also called intraocular pressure or IOP) rises because the correct amount of fluid can’t drain out of the eye. With open angle glaucoma, the entrances to the drainage canals are clear and should be working correctly. The clogging problem occurs inside the drainage canals, like the clogging that can occur inside the pipe below the drain in a sink.
Most people have no symptoms and no early warning signs. If open angle glaucoma is not diagnosed and treated, it can cause a gradual loss of vision. This type of glaucoma develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years. It usually responds well to medication, especially if caught early and treated.
Angle Closure Glaucoma
This type of glaucoma is also known as acute glaucoma or narrow angle glaucoma. It is much more rare and is very different from open angle glaucoma in that the eye pressure usually goes up very fast. This happens when the drainage canals get blocked or covered over, like the clog in a sink when something is covering the drain. With angle closure glaucoma, the iris and cornea is not as wide and open as it should be. The outer edge of the iris bunches up over the drainage canals, when the pupil enlarges too much or too quickly. This can happen when entering a dark room.
A simple test can be used to see if your angle is normal and wide or abnormal and narrow. Treatment of angle closure glaucoma usually involves surgery to remove a small portion of the outer edge of the iris. This helps unblock the drainage canals so that the extra fluid can drain. Usually surgery is successful and long lasting. However, you should still receive regular check-ups. Symptoms of angle closure glaucoma may include headaches, eye pain, nausea, rainbows around lights at night, and very blurred vision.
Glaucoma can occur as the result of an eye injury, inflammation, tumor or in advanced cases of cataract or diabetes. It can also be caused by certain drugs such as steroids. This form of glaucoma may be mild or severe. The type of treatment will depend on whether it is open angle or angle closure glaucoma.
Normal Tension Glaucoma (NTG)
Normal tension glaucoma is also known as low tension glaucoma or normal pressure glaucoma. In this type of glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged even though intraocular pressure (IOP) is not very high. Doctors do not know why some people’s optic nerves are damaged even though they have what is considered to be "normal" (between 12-22 mm Hg) pressure levels.
Those at higher risk for this form of glaucoma are people with a family history of normal tension glaucoma, people of Japanese ancestry, and people with a history of systemic heart disease, such as irregular heart rhythm. Normal tension glaucoma is usually detected after an examination of the optic nerve.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation sponsored an international study to help determine the best treatment for this type of glaucoma (Collaborative NTG Study). The study concluded eye drops that lower IOP were effective even in cases of normal tension glaucoma. Currently, most doctors treat normal tension glaucoma by keeping normal eye pressures as low as possible with medicines, laser surgery, or filtering surgery.
This is a form of secondary open angle glaucoma. It occurs when the pigment granules in the back of the iris (the colored part of the eye) break into the clear fluid produced inside the eye. These tiny pigment granules flow toward the drainage canals in the eye and slowly clog them, causing eye pressure to rise. Treatment usually includes medications or surgery.
Cataracts and Glaucoma
Both cataracts and glaucoma can be a natural part of the aging process. Many people over 60 may have both. Otherwise, the two are not associated. With the exception of glaucoma due to secondary causes such as trauma or steroids, glaucoma does not cause cataracts and cataracts do not cause glaucoma. While glaucoma is most often a problem with drainage, a cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens allowing less light to pass through.
Both cataracts and glaucoma are serious conditions that can cause you to lose vision. However, loss of vision due to cataracts can be reversed with surgery. Loss of vision from glaucoma is, as yet, irreversible.
and there are alot of diseases you can get it at
related link: Vision 2005